This Saturday and Sunday, September 4-5, the Illinois State Fairgrounds will host rounds 13 and 14 of the AMA Progressive Insurance Flat Track Championship. The traditional Labor Day weekend Springfield Mile has been the most coveted race in the championship for years. The recent addition of the Saturday night short track race only adds to the prestige of the historic event. Fans will have an opportunity to watch the tight racing action of the short track on Saturday night and the high-speed drafting maneuvers on the mile on Sunday.
Chris Carr leads the Grand National Championship point standings riding his stable of Quality Checked Certified Pre Owned Ford-backed motorcycles. The defending AMA Grand National Champion from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, has four wins. The champ’s consistency this season has been outstanding. Only once this year has he finished outside of the top five (a sixth in Davenport, Iowa was his worst result). Carr, the winningest active rider in the series, is shooting for his sixth AMA Grand National Championship. A pair of wins in Springfield would almost assure him that goal.
“I feel good going into Springfield,” Carr said. “I’ve been in this kind of pressure situation before with a narrow lead coming to the end of the season so I’m ready to deal with it. I’m going to Springfield expecting good things.”
While Carr has held the points lead since round two of the championship in early May, another former champ, Joe Kopp, has hounded his rival most of the season. Kopp, who rides for the KTM USA/Jones Powersports squad, has narrowed the margin to 19 points with five rounds remaining. The 2000 series champ from Mica, Washington, has closed the gap by finishing higher than Carr in the last three races.
“Four points per round, that’s my goal,” said Kopp of where he needs to finish ahead of Carr in the final five races. That would put Kopp a single point ahead of Carr at the end of the season. “Obviously I don’t want it to be that close, but that’s the math I’ve worked out for myself. I really like racing the Springfield Short Track. It’s sort of wet and loose, and you can really push it there. And hopefully my time has come on the mile. I’ve never won there, but I’ve finished second a few times and I feel like I have a good shot at it.”
Besides Carr and Kopp, Rich King will be another rider to watch for on the mile. The Iowan won the race last year on his Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson, and would like to join a select group of riders that have won the classic Labor Day event. King also won the May Springfield Mile this year and in 2003.
Johnny Murphree, who fashioned a serious challenge to Carr for the championship last year, finally broke through to earn his first victory of the 2004 campaign last weekend in Sedalia, Missouri. With the victory, Murphree could have the confidence to take his first win at Springfield.
J.R. Schnabel is expected to be a leading contender, especially on the short track where he won last year.
Also on tap for Springfield fans is a round of the Harley-Davidson Sportster Performance Series. Chris Hart of Farmington, New York, has been nearly unbeatable on his Lombardi Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster. Hart has three wins in the four races leading up to Springfield. Robert Lewis and defending champ Scott Scherb are still in the championship picture, but both will need a little luck to catch Hart.
Springfield is one of the Granddaddy races on the AMA racing calendar. AMA nationals have been held on the same mile oval dating back to the 1920s, and the AMA Grand National Champion was crowned based on winning the Springfield Mile until 1954 when the association implemented the Grand National Championship Series. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the series.
The Springfield Mile Grand National and Sportster Performance races will be taped by SPEED Channel to be telecast during the off-season this fall.
For additional information on the Springfield AMA Grand National doubleheader weekend contact the Illinois Motorcycle Dealer Association at (217) 753-8866 or visit the website www.illinoismda.com.